Sunday, 30 June 2013

Nostalgia for an age that never existed

Being both a muso and someone who is getting on a bit one of the most frequent conversations I end up having with friends is about 'how much better music back then...', followed up by a dose of 'not like the junk that you hear now'. This is not necessarily a bad conversation to have with people as there has been a heck of a lot of good music in the past and there is a lot of bad music out there at the moment, however it does ignore one key fact: There has always been bad music (which, for the purpose of this post is defined as 'disposable pop-pap that no-one will remember in 6 months' ) and it has always been the majority of what you will hear in the 'general music listening land' of the general public and mainstream media.

If you take any period of time and actually look at what people were listening to you will discover that there was no golden-period of high-quality dominance and that the good to bad ratio was always relatively similar. The only two periods were there is any major difference is at the every start of the charts, where Pop was just getting established as a genre and not that many records being sold at all so the sales being split flatly across demographic and style, and the very recent years, in which singles sales have gone down as everything other than Pop has moved onto different sale streams. Everything between the mid-50's and the mid 2k's has had a mix of the good, the bad, and the utterly indifferent. The majority of 'amazing scene's' were never that above ground and only got the fame they did in hindsight by being distinct enough to be interesting and musical enough to stand the test of time. For the average person the 50s were dominated by Frankie Laine, not Elvis,  the 60's were more about light ballads than the Summer of Love, and as I always point out the 80's are best summed up by Ultravox being kept off the No.1 slot by Joe Dolce. The current dross is no different to the old dross, except that its got a bit more talent show orientated.

So why do people always look back at them and say 'ahhh, those were the days'? Well some of it is simple of when you are born, and how much time you actually have. When you are a teenager/young adult you have more time to go and find music to listen to, rather than being busy and just listening to whatever is on the radio. You also don't have a big stock of songs to listen to as you are still to find 'the love song', 'the party tune', or 'the breakup song' etc that will always be with you. Once you have a mental stock of a couple hundred songs you don't need to do much more hunting and you are going to have other things to do with your life. The average persons music collection will be dominated from songs that came out either when they were 15 to 25 or were played on a scene they were into at that time. The lack of 'bad' in that period is further explained by you simply not remembering it because you were too focused on the good stuff. The background dross was just background and is very similar in quality and quantity to the background dross these days, you just haven't heard as much of the good stuff that would normally balance it. If you scratch beneath the 'heard on the telly, on the bus, or in the chart store' surface then you'll find just the same amount of quality music.

You also have the media manipulation element, especially when it comes to retro shows. No one is going to watch a show called '10 most mediocre hits of the XXs', so they are trimmed down to either the very, very good or the very, very bad. You are also unlikely to get anyone making a film about a band or scene that they didn't find exciting and vital, which is why so much naff is glossed over. Then you have the 'cheap TV' element, with  the Old Grey Whistle Test  being a great example of this effect. The show is often rolled out as an example of the dominance of 'serious rock' in the 70's, even though at the time it had piss-poor viewing figures. Why did it exist? It was incredibly cheap to produce and was in a time-slot that no-one else wanted. Why is still shown? It was almost exclusively live performances from bands willing to sign any deal for some exposure so it's incredibly cheap to play again. Why is it watched so much? Curiosity combined with being told 'these songs are amazing' and muso's who find that kind of show exciting having spent the last 20 years saying how important and influential it was. The history of music has been cherry picked to hell & back so many times it has now been accepted as fact, especially because the guy on the telly has told us the same story so many times.

Music is always vital and developing, with great new stuff coming out all the time. It's just that you are not going to find it on a bus, on a shampoo advert, or in the Top Ten rack at Tesco. That is where you are going to find the filler tracks for peoples lives that are here today and gone tomorrow, as they have always been and will always be. And if you want to get back to a 'Golden Age of Music' then all you need to do is take yourself back to how you felt about and discovered music when you liked it the most, because your new favourite song is just around the corner.
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